Signs offer promise, but hard work ahead

The latest news from the Grand Valley is increasingly encouraging. But as is almost always the case with all things economic, there’s a catch. And that’s why efforts to bolster the economy — including, at last, a meeting with the governor to discuss the matter — must proceed.

First, the good news. Year-over-year gains in sales tax collections continue to reflect increased activity in the retail sector.

Grand Junction and Mesa County both reported sizable year-over-year increases in their latest sales and use tax reports — 5.4 percent for the city and 

3.3 percent for the county. Moreover, the monthly gains push year-to-date collections for 2014 to ahead of those for the same span in 2013.

But here’s the catch. While the latest monthly and year-to-date collections topped those for 2013 as well as 2011 and 2010, they remain slightly below 2012.

Now, for more good news. The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped to its lowest level in more than five years. The seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in the county fell four-tenths of a point to 6.4 percent in May. That’s the lowest level since January 2009. Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction hit the highest level for a May since 2008. New claims for unemployment benefits filed in May fell to their lowest monthly level since September 2008.

But once again, there’s a catch. The overall work force in Mesa County remains well below pre-recession levels — and more than 9 percent below peak employment in November 2008. Moreover, the jobless rate in the county remains well above the statewide seasonally adjusted rate of 5.8 percent in May.

While the latest economic indicators are increasingly promising, they’re far from perfect. And the economic recovery in the Grand Valley remains far less robust than other areas of Colorado, in particular the Front Range.

The situation points to the importance of a long-awaited meeting with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to talk face-to-face about ways to improve the economy in Western Colorado.

More than six months after the governor first was invited to a regional economic summit of sorts, the event has been scheduled for June 30 in Glenwood Springs. While Hickenlooper can rightfully tout the job and business growth that’s occurred in Colorado, the West Slope lags behind in the resurgence. And the last time we checked, that big chunk of land west of the Continental Divide remains an important part of the state.

Although it certainly took some time to arrange the meeting, it’s significant the governor has set aside two hours in his schedule to talk in depth about the Western Colorado economy and what can be done to improve that economy. What’s far more significant, of course, is what happens after the meeting. There’s always the risk that after all is said and done, more is said than done.

If nothing else, the boom-and-bust cycle in Western Colorado has demonstrated the importance of consistent efforts at promoting and diversifying the economy — in good times as well as bad.

While the latest indicators offer the promise of improving conditions, successful business owners and managers know all too well real change invariably comes about as a result of hard work, and plenty of it.